Dressing a Documentary: The Director Premieres at the Tribeca Film Festival

By  April 23, 2013

While us Glam girls are lucky enough to get the inside scoop from many of the designers you love, there are only so many places we get access to. Thanks to the Tribeca Film Festival sponsored by American Express, fashionistas and film fanatics can go behind the scenes of one of the biggest brands in the world with “The Director.”

Helmed by Christina Voros and produced by James Franco, who met when they attended New York University, the documentary pulls the curtain back on Gucci and its Creative Director Frida Giannini. In three parts, the cameras follow the brand through its history, including Giannini’s rise through the ranks, through the creation of a collection, and looks into the future with China as one of the largest emerging markets. The film evens looks to Giannini’s past as she developed as a designer and into private life prior to the birth of her daughter, Greta.

Following the screening, Voros and Franco stuck around for a Q & A with the audience and touched on working with Frida, the perceived perils of filming in China, and how the film changed their perception of fashion.

Q: How was it working with the entire team and how did you decide on the flow of the film? [It looks to the past, then the future, and finally the present]
A: Voros: I think one of the things that’s very important to Frida about her work, is an appreciation for the history of the brand and taking that into the future in a way that is both innovative, but also speaks to where it’s come from. So visually, it was always a desire of mine to somehow represent that visually. We used a lot of different cameras and a lot of different mediums. In the beginning of the film, there’s a lot of film, and then the film itself moves more into digital as the film extends. But
we had a lot of fun kind of playing with what was old and what was new. In fact, when I first showed some of this material to some of the people at Gucci, their archivist actually sent me an email and said, “Where did you get that archival footage, I haven’t seen it.” And I said, “No, we actually shot that a few months ago.”
Q: How has it been to be the face of Gucci?
A: Franco: I’ve worked with Gucci for a while now — four or five years — I think, longer than I’ve known Christina, actually. And it’s been a great relationship. I think, for me, this project encapsulates my relationship with them because the relationship started because they asked me to be a model for them and very soon after that, they became incredibly supportive of a lot of my other projects, film, art projects. And so now that we’ve made this film together, it’s sort of brought both sides of our relationship together. So, it’s been pretty great. I’ve got nothing but incredible experiences with them and they’ve enabled me to do a lot of things that I wouldn’t have been able to do without them.
Q: Did any of the other fashion documentaries influence how you approached the film?
A: Voros: I’ve seen probably most of the fashion documentaries, and I love Unzipped, it’s one of my favorite documentaries ever, not just about fashion. I’m sure on some level, that film, and especially its use of textures really influenced me. Why on Frida? It was James and his relationship with the house and his relationship with Frida that was the seed from which the entire film grew. So, if I hadn’t made it on Frida, I don’t think I would have made it on anyone else. The film is what it is because of that friendship and that relationship and the trust that Gucci had for James and through James for me to let us behind doors that other people hadn’t been allowed behind before.
Q: How did you choose what made the final cut?
A: Voros: It wasn’t easy. I was lucky enough to have an amazing editor, Filippo Conz, and two incredible associate editors. There is a lot of footage we shot for over 18 months, and there are a lot of choices that had to be made, but ultimately, as the events in Frida’s life unfolded over the period of shooting the film; it was always meant to be a portrait of her and her creative process, but it became sort of a personal evolution as well and so, as those things started to happen, it changed the decisions as we were making them.
Q: How were you able to film in China?
A: Voros: It was an amazing experience to be there. Part of what was most interesting about it, to me, was actually when you go to the shows in Milan–I actually expected it to be a lot more chaotic than it is. Frida and her team and everyone working at Gucci is such a well-oiled machine, and they do it so many times a year, and it’s a rhythm to it. So you take that well-oiled machine and you put it in a completely different place where you don’t have the infrastructure and that familiarity. And it’s different. And I think some of that comes out in the film.

In terms of being allowed to shoot things, if you ask for permission, you are courting denial, so we just sort of showed up. I guess there are proper avenues to bringing equipment into different places; and part of it is, we’re traveling with not enormous cameras, and thank God for technology now, everything is getting smaller and smaller, so it fits into a roller board, you can just put it above you on the plane and hope nobody asks any questions; which is kind of what we did and it worked out. I don’t know if I suggest that to other aspiring filmmakers going to do a documentary in China, but I also think because of the nature of the show–we were going there for a media event for this show that was being put on there–I think walking around with cameras didn’t seem as out of place as it would have had that not been the purpose of the visit.

Q: Did filming the documentary change the way you saw fashion?
A: Franco: I worked with Gucci, and so I was kind of in that world. For me, it was essential to have Christine there–someone I worked with so closely–be able to really take the reigns and look at it because I’m, in some ways, still like the chicken. The chicken can’t make the film all by himself. I’m sort of in that world; I kind of know this world.

Voros: I grew up with a great appreciation for fashion. My Hungarian great-aunts were dressmakers and designers in Hungary for the opera and for the circus, before they moved to the states. My great-aunt opened up a couture shop on Lexington Avenue and 74th street in the ‘60s, and so I kind of grew up under foot there, and running errands down to the garment district to buy findings or zippers or fabric for them. So, I’ve always been fascinated by that world. I think in another universe, I could have very happily gone into fashion because I think it stimulates the same part of my creative mind as filmmaking does. But James is right. I didn’t know this world at all. I knew two little ladies in a second-floor apartment in New York City with a handful of clients. So, it was fascinating to really understand how much work goes into every bag or dress or pair of shoes that you pick up when you go into a store, and how many hands have touched it and how many stages it’s gone through to go from an idea to a physical object in your hand. And not only that, but what kind of universe has been built around it. The shows are a spectacle, and they’re an experience, not unlike going to the theater or going to a film. It really is, as Frida says, it’s creating a dream. And so, it comes down to the music, to the casting process, to the lighting, to the chandelier, the awning–it’s all part of the same experience. So, it was fascinating to see how infinitely complex that was.